This is the story of how I, a girl with a Midwestern-level spice tolerance, invented a chili paste that my husband, who gets the food with four chilis next to it at Thai restaurants, loves. It all started in Malaysia. I loved the food, but of course it was all too spicy. (Seriously. Even breakfast. At a hotel that caters to westerners. I really am pathetic.) I really liked nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk with various stuff on the side. The stuff on the side varied, but there were always peanuts and sambal, a blisteringly hot chili paste. I liked the texture, but I could barely use any. When I made my own version of nasi lemak at home last week, I wanted a similar condiment, but one that I could comfortably eat. Obviously, it couldn't be entirely chili-based, but I had to replace that flavor with other Southeast Asian flavors so it would still pack a punch. I decided that tomato paste and fresh tomatoes would add some depth of flavor in addition to non-spicy volume. Then I threw in basically everything Southeast Asian in my spice cabinet. The result is a really flavorful paste with just the right texture that even my poor wimpy taste buds can handle.
I wasn't sure if something like this would be up Jon's alley because he likes the truly fiery real chili paste, but he absolutely loved it. He has been eating it with anything he thinks it will work on, including on bagels with cream cheese. When he first tried it, he didn't know it had tomatoes in it. I had been worried that the tomatoes would be too acidic and overwhelming, but they just contributed to the overall depth of flavor without adding too much acidity or characteristic tomatoey-ness. It's a winner. Not very Malaysian, but really nice on coconut rice (or bagels).
Evelyn's amazing chili paste
2 dundicut or other whole dried chilis, or to taste
1 inch ginger, peeled and cut into a few chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut into a few chunks
1 lemongrass stalk, tender inside part only, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp good curry powder (Penzey's Maharajah is great)
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
16 grape tomatoes, quartered, divided
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp hoisin sauce
Place the chilis, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, coriander seeds, and curry powder in a food processor (a small one is nice if you've got it). Grind until it's pretty ground up. Add the tomato paste and half the grape tomatoes and process until paste-like. Heat the vegetable oil over medium in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the paste from the processor and the rest of the tomatoes. Cook for about five minutes. It should be thick and smell insanely delicious. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil and hoisin sauce.